Robin Hanson nails it in a recent post to his fantastic blog, Overcoming Bias:
One way to avoid having a social norm to apply to oneself is to prevent wide knowledge that the norm applies to your situation. It is all right if some folks know, as long as outsider observers don’t know. People don’t want to anyone to be able to prove they knowingly failed to enforce a norm.
This (at least in part) drives the desire for privacy; of course, it is also a social norm to restrict certain activities to private settings.
Even understanding what someone means when they smile is a complicated process we take for granted; the complexities of socialization come naturally to us after millions of years of evolution.
Of course, there are evolutionary advantages to being able to work around social norms (e.g., a male produces more genetic offspring if he cheats on an ostensibly monogamous female partner). This results in hypocrisy (again from Overcoming Bias):
When folks expect to be able to evade a norm, they don’t mind making that norm stronger. This lets them sound more pro-social, while actually giving themselves an advantage over folks who can’t evade as easily. And once norms get overly strong, there is more intuitive support for allowing evasion, via attitudes supporting letting people keep their “privacy.”
I submit this as a solid launch pad for answering the question, “What is public, what is private?”
Public becomes the realm of activities and behaviors which help us cooperate socially to increase survival, and private being the realm of activities primarily focused on self-interest and individualism.
Hammers are awesome. To our rockhammer using ancestors, hammers were life-saving and -giving. There’s a reason the handheld hammer is in every worthwhile toolbox around the world.
In his essay titled “Cyberdemocracy: The Internet and the Public Sphere”, Mark Poster makes the outrageous claim that “the effect of hammers is not to make people hammers” (p. 262).
I am opposed to spanking. I would be more open to it if a child, once spanked, never misbehaved again, but I’m pretty sure that never happens. Not-spanking doesn’t mean you let children do everything they please, but it does mean you have to be more creative wherever an action requires a manufactured consequence. If little Timmy chops off a finger while playing with the door (a “natural” consequence) you told him not to play with, manufacturing additional punishment seems excessive — although an “I told you so” may prove irresistible.
Like those intrepid parents who don’t wish to hit their children to punish them, governments and societies invest great amounts of treasure, time, and/or energy into developing disciplinary techniques. French philosopher Michel Foucault offers his three cents in his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison; of special interest (i.e., class assignment) is the chapter titled “Panopticism.”
No one laughs at me more than me, partially because I’m the only one who thinks I’m funny. Plus, I consider myself little more than a well-trained talking monkey (ape, for you purists). I often have moments where I visualize chimpanzee-me running my errands or doing my chores, a mental image which makes it difficult to take anything I do seriously.
Chimpanzees (and bonobos, genetically as similar to humans as chimps) evolved from a common ancestor within social contexts similar to those experienced by humans. The prevalent Social Brain hypothesis proposes that the evolution of our “large” brains was driven largely by the complexities of functioning within these social environments. Continue reading
Vocabulary, grammar, format, and any other of the conditions for proper communication are rules; people made them, and people follow them so they might be understood. Those who fail to do so do so at the risk of being unheard (or improperly understood). Continue reading
German philosophy has never really caught my fancy, but I love British history. To my delight, Part III of Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Strukturwandel der Öffentlicheit) cites the development of post-interregnum Great Britain through the 18th century as the first “public sphere that functioned in the political realm.”
Habermas likes three spawning points for Britain’s transformation: Continue reading
So… one of my professors assigned Blown to Bits to be read in 7 days. I am capable of completing this assignment, but believe I will have failed come next class. Anyhoo, for the sake of brevity, I began scanning the TOC and reading sections which sounded tantalizing. Continue reading